London Town. Musically it’s inspired figures from Handel and Haydn through to the Clash and the Jam.
More recently rappers have added their say, and alongside the likes of Roots Manuva and Dizzee Rascal can be placed Kano.
A younger wordsmith he may be, but when musicOMH met him the voice of experience was already speaking.
Talk inevitably begins with the subject of his home town, and Kano briefly talks about its relevance to his second album. “There’s a lot about London that inspires me, you know? It’s a big journey, and there’s a lot of really different people that you meet along the way. If cab drivers could rap they’d have so much to say on a record, more than me!”
Feel Free encapsulates the album, with Albarn adding a striking contrast to Kano’s rap. “I met up with him for a day”, muses the wordsmith, “and then had another day in the studio after the end of making the song. We met up for a recording on the Jools Holland program as well.” And was it a meeting of minds? “We were coming from the same place, on the same page. We got talking, and he was familiar with where I’m from. He grew up around a whole lot of Jamaicans and I found I could identify with the Gorillaz basslines and stuff”. Did they speak of London? “We did a bit, but I’m from the East and he’s from the West. We found a common ground in the music, you know?”
Bearing in mind Albarn’s contribution to Gorillaz, does Kano believe they helped pave the way for grime and his music to be more of an overground success? “Well I wouldn’t call my music grime – I’m influenced by a lot of stuff. But Gorillaz do have dirty basslines and beautiful strings, they’ve done that to a tee, you know. But what genre is it? It’s hard to say, and people don’t know really what my music is. I don’t like music to be grouped under all these different names, it’s restricting.”
On Craig David’s contribution as the vocalist of This Is The Girl, Kano notes that in their collaboration “he definitely brought something to the table. When I was first going out his music was playing at a lot of the raves I was going to, and I knew he could add a melodic element to my music. This Is The Girl was very dark before he added that, and a lot of people heard the song and thought he brought something different to it. The Artful Dodger stuff that he did, Rewind especially, and Fill Me In, they were really upbeat garage. This is more of a tempo we’re familiar with, and it’s good to hear him back on this sort of stuff”.
“I knew he could add a melodic element to my music” – Kano brings Craig David into his world.
When Craig David’s star was in the ascendancy Kano was not long into rapping at the relatively tender age of sixteen. In the seven years since, he feels the progression. “From Boys Like Girls to Feel Free I think I’ve progressed lyrically and musically, but it’s something that’s more to do with age and experience, you know? It’s the people that I’ve worked with, and the experiences that I’ve had that have helped me to grow, and it’s still happening – I think there’s a lot still to come.”
And yet it could have been so different. Before choosing rap as his main discipline Kano had his finger in several pies, with education, football and modeling all vying for his time. What made him choose music? He pauses. “It wasn’t quite like that. I kind of lost interest in the football before I got into music, cos if it had been a choice like that maybe I wouldn’t have done it! I left school and went to college and then I was headed for university – I had an interview, they really liked my work and accepted me.”
He draws breath. “But it didn’t feel right, and there comes a time where you have to take the risk and just go for it. That’s how you become good at your craft, and I found that I just wanted to do music. For a while it was “is this ever really gonna happen”, but I kept my head down and got into the pirate radio thing, and made the best music possible at the time. I’m still progressing so as long as I feel I still have something to give I’ll carry on.”
This puts me in mind of early rap retirements’, but he’s not headed that way yet. “With Wiley and Jay-Z especially, I think he felt he had accomplished everything. For me every day I live is another song, every day I go through.”
Now he has reached a stage where acceptance is forthcoming from both sides of the Atlantic. Yet while Kano projects that slightly surly self-confidence that characterises many a lyrical boxer, he retains at least one foot on the ground. “It’s cool, you know what I mean? First and foremost it’s good if your music is traveling so far. I’ve not done much in the US, I’ve done two shows there so far.”
And does he think British hip hop is making a wave across the pond? “I’m not sure, I think we’re doing well – obviously it’s not on a scale like 50 Cent but their ears are more open to music from outside the country. A lot of music that comes out of the country now is just the same, which is not what they’re used to from their hip hop, though a lot of TImbaland‘s new productions are now more inspired by house music.”
Recently Kano performed at the Electric Proms, where he headlined with Craig David at Camden’s Jazz Caf. While the rapper initially gives the impression of one more gig safely negotiated, it’s clear he was aware of the festival’s special pulling power. “It was good as the next day after my performance I was back there to see Estelle and you saw the same people there. It’s great to have that buzz that was there, as I think there’s a lot of events where no-one really seems to care.”
And with that time is called, with Kano off to his next interview. The rapper has presence, of that there is no doubt – and a self-confidence in his work that indicates his progression toward the top is far from over.